A Season of Hope

Katherine Stievater, Founder, Gap Year Solutions

During this spring season, I am filled with hope, especially as I see the number of COVID vaccinations increase and infections decline significantly from highs earlier this year. I am optimistic about what is ahead in the Gap Year world, and want to share a few of the things I’m thinking about.

Hope for resumption of travel

Regular readers of this space know that we incorporate travel as one among many Real World Learning experiences for our students. Some of our students don’t venture much further than their hometown. That does not mean we don’t embrace the benefits and joy of traveling and experiencing new cultures, languages, independent living and problem solving opportunities! And so we are as eager as all of you for international travel to resume. Happily this is happening. Last fall our students stayed stateside, including Hawaii. This spring, our students are in Ireland, Israel, Costa Rica and Thailand. Yes, you read that right – Thailand. While the rate of vaccinations varies considerably by destination, countries have developed greater confidence in their approach to permitting travelers inside their borders. This will only improve (and hopefully rapidly) as the year progresses!

Hope for more U.S. Gap Year programs

I’m a big fan of silver linings, and one of the big ones from this pandemic will hopefully be the awareness and staying power of Gap Year Programs focused on U.S. experiences. Just last week we received a text from one of our students on a program in Hawaii: “Hi! Just got my phone back after a meditation retreat. This has been the best experience of my life!!”

In addition to greater visibility of traditional options such as Outward Bound and NOLS, alternatives like Americorps/NCCC became better known over the past year. Smaller programs have grown and new ones have started, offering opportunities to:

  • Focus on leadership, entrepreneurship, personal growth, becoming more grounded, and living without technology
  • Learn about farm to table agriculture, watersheds, sustainability, living off the land, social justice, permaculture, and public land use
  • Participate in rafting, backpacking, kayaking, gardening, foraging, reading, discussions, Wilderness First Responder certification, lectures and many more

During the pandemic, students have even invented their own “program” (see www.fishallfifty.us).

Hope for more in-person jobs and internships

My son has a summer internship with a bank in Manhattan starting this June. After much uncertainty, he has learned that he will work in-person at the bank’s offices. Gap Year Solutions students usually work part-time or full-time at some point during their Gap time, and many have found in-person ways to do this during COVID (sports instructors, retail sales, coffee shop baristas, etc.). I think we can all agree that it will be awhile before most people are back in “normal” office settings. However my son’s story (and others I am hearing) give me hope about the re-emergence of job opportunities and internships that take place in the physical presence of other people!

Hope for continued Gap Year growth

Another silver lining of COVID is the intense focus on Gap Years, as college bound students questioned the value of a campus environment that was not in-person. Our data tells us that the number of Gap Year deferrals increased 3-4x compared to 2019 (taking the number of Gap Year students from roughly 40,000 to 130,000). Based on our observation of college plans for fall 2021 and the volume of inquiries we are receiving for next year, we expect that this increase will hold for 2021-22. Our hope is that the Gap Year movement only grows from here. The Gap Year option is a great one for all students to consider so they can be their best selves when they step foot on campus for the first time.

Hope for our teens

Finally, I am tremendously hopeful about our young adults, those who are graduating high school and moving on to the next chapter of their lives. They are experiencing something so unusual and so dislocating with this pandemic, yet I have been so impressed with their resilience, flexibility and gratitude. I hope – and believe – that the events of last year will help our teens develop tools and perspectives that will actually help them thrive in the years ahead.

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